Some Republicans have been throwing around the idea of repealing the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.  This is the amendment that allows for the direct election of Senators, instead of having them appointed by State legislatures. It was passed in 1913, after decades of groups like the Populist party arguing for it.

The Republican version of American history does seem to really hinge on the year 1913.  that was the year that the power of the Federal government began to increase. In addition to the direct election of Senators, it was the year the 16th Amendment–the income tax–was passed. (This was also something the Populists had wanted.) It also was when the Federal Reserve was created, thus paving the way for  many a libertarian conspiracy theory.

I’m assuming this why the Republicans want to do this–it’s a first step towards repealing the so-called “Progressive Era”.  I think the real point they’re driving at is the repeal of the income tax, as part of a “Starve the Beast” strategy.

That said, I do actually see some reason for opposing the direct election of Senators. I don’t endorse it, but I can see some logic to it.  The Senate was supposed to be a less polarized place than the House of Representatives–the idea being the Senators could compromise with each other more than the elected Representatives in the House. Probably having the members be appointed rather than elected might decrease the amount of fighting among Senators.

This might be a good step towards reducing the gridlock in Washington, especially since the current trend is the Senate becoming more like the House, and ending up just as deadlocked.

Then again, there’s no reason to assume giving control of appointing senators back to the State Legislatures would help anything.  Whichever Party controls the legislature will just appoint their favorite cronies, and we’ll end up in the same predicament.

In addition, I don’t know how you would ever get people to vote for someone advocating this.  It essentially boils down to saying “I think you people vote for lousy candidates, and so am going to take away your ability to do so. Vote for me!”

I suppose the legislatures could call for a Constitutional convention and try to get it changed that way, though who knows what else they might end up changing in the process.  (This is another scheme the Republicans have been toying with for some time.)

So, the government is shutdown, and the two Parties are blaming each other for it.  To some extent, the blame must be shared–it takes two to tango, and it also takes two to come to a stalemate.  In that sense, both Parties are to blame.

But the interesting thing is that only one of the Parties spends most of its time decrying the evils of an oversized Federal government.  So when that same Party, after being at least partially responsible for the shutdown, then starts moaning about how awful it is that the Federal government’s services are being denied to the citizens, it makes them look hypocritical and stupid.

This by itself would be bad enough for them, but they have an additional problem, which is that they seem to have no clear goal. They want to delay Obamacare and… what?  They have no plan, no vision for the nation.  It seems to me that they have developed a Captain Ahab-like obsession with defeating Obamacare, so much so that they’ve lost all sense of perspective.

Read all about it at Examiner.com. Allow me to quote a key part from the article:

“Nationalism is the only thing that can save America and a new nationalist party that has a very strict firewall that does not permit the radical fringe of racism,” Savage declared while clarifying that the term “nationalism” must be redefined away from the popular misconception of 1930s European-style nationalism associated with fascism and socialism. Savage defined his version of nationalism as: “Borders, language, culture. It defines every nation on the planet, the flag, the language, the borders. And what is it the internationalists do? They want to dissolve the borders, they want to introduce multiculturalism, they want to introduce a Tower of Babel of languages.”

As Savage himself points out later, much of the so-called “Tea Party” movement is dedicated to nationalist goals.  So, it seems to me we already have a “nationalist” party in this country; it is simply known by a different name.  I may have mentioned this once or twice or several hundred times over the past three years.

Even so, I think he is correct that they ought to call themselves what they really are; it would make politics much easier to comprehend.

(Incidentally, I would just love to know how Savage thinks they could preserve “borders, language and culture” without some form of socialism.)

Some conservative writer–I think it was John Nolte–once said that A Christmas Carol was a conservative story.  Scrooge, he reasoned, learns the value of private charity.  I cannot find the quote, but as I recall he made reference to Scrooge’s line about sending the poor to prisons and workhouses as demonstrating that he is in the beginning a “liberal” who puts his faith in government.  By the end, after the ghosts stop by, he decides that aid to the poor must be done privately (but lavishly!) and so becomes a conservative.

I don’t think Dickens was even thinking in those terms when he wrote the story, so I don’t really buy this interpretation.  The story is more about generosity vs. stinginess in general.  Scrooge is designed to be unlikeable to everyone, liberal or conservative.  The only people I can see liking pre-ghost Scrooge would be Ayn Rand types who oppose all charity.

Nevertheless, it is rather interesting to consider the dichotomy that this conservative interpretation of that classic tale implicitly draws.  Though there are Randian exceptions, the majority of conservatives are not opposed to charity in general, they are only opposed to charity when it is done by the government.

Charity Venn Diagram
In truth, the left circle should be much smaller.

Why?

It cannot be because they are concerned people will become dependent upon charity; for that is equally likely whether it is the State, or the Church, or private individuals providing the charity.  Conservatives never worry that people will become dependent on the Church or wealthy individuals.  Only on the State.

Thus, we may reasonably conclude that, with a few exceptions, Republican opposition to welfare programs is because they are of the State, and not because they are welfare programs.

So, again, why?

Consider this excerpt from Albert Jay Nock’s 1936 book Our Enemy, the State, a sort of protest he wrote against the expansion of government under Roosevelt:

If the State has made such matters its business, and has confiscated the social power necessary to deal with them, why, let it deal with them. We can get some kind of rough measure of this general atrophy by our own disposition when approached by a beggar. Two years ago we might have been moved to give him something: today we are moved to refer him to the State’s relief-agency. The State has said to society, ‘You are either not exercising enough power to meet the emergency, or are exercising it in what I think is an incompetent way, so I shall confiscate your power, and exercise it to suit myself.’ Hence when a beggar asks us for a quarter, our instinct is to say that the State has already confiscated our quarter for his benefit, and he should go to the State about it.

Notice that this, by and large, is not true.  It may be logical enough in its way, but it is not how most human beings actually behave.  (Maybe Nock was a Vulcan—the name fits.)  Most people will make that sort of decision based on more immediate factors, and do not stop to think about whether government has already “confiscated” the funds.  Nock evidently did, but he should have figured out that he was an exception.

I think the answer boils down to the nationalist/business divide in the Republican party. If you read this blog regularly, you know that my answer is, as I once put it: “Business wants to keep the government from getting its money; nationalists hate the actual people in the government.”

Well maybe “hate” is a strong word. Still, I think the major issue is their dislike of the government, and the resultant concern that people will become dependent upon it, rather than dependent on, say, religious institutions. Their quarrel is not with dependency per se, but only with what institution the beneficiaries of charity are in danger of becoming dependent upon.

But perhaps even that does not altogether account for it. As has been stated many times, the Republicans do not mind wasteful government spending on certain things that they like, particularly the military.  It is only when the spending is devoted to someone or something they don’t like.  They don’t oppose the whole government, only certain parts of it.

James Fallows at The Atlantic wrote a post on his blog called “5 Signs the United States is Undergoing a Coup“.  Then he thought better of it, and changed it to “5 Signs of a Radical Change in U.S. Politics”.  Here are the signs:

  • First, a presidential election is decided by five people, who don’t even try to explain their choice in normal legal terms.
  • Then the beneficiary of that decision appoints the next two members of the court, who present themselves for consideration as restrained, humble figures who care only about law rather than ideology.
  • Once on the bench, for life, those two actively second-guess and re-do existing law, to advance the interests of the party that appointed them.
  • Meanwhile their party’s representatives in the Senate abuse procedural rules to an extent never previously seen to block legislation — and appointments, especially to the courts.
  • And, when a major piece of legislation gets through, the party’s majority on the Supreme Court prepares to negate it — even though the details of the plan were originally Republican proposals and even though the party’s presidential nominee endorsed these concepts only a few years ago.

Well, the “coup” headline was quite wrong.  This isn’t a “coup”, because it doesn’t involve the military, it is non-violent,  and it is worked just by using the existing system.  The “radical change” headline is true, but generic and silly.  There are lots of radical changes in U.S. politics; what makes this one important?

For, make no mistake, it is important.  But it isn’t a coup.  It is nothing more or less than one political party working the system to its own advantage.  Or, as Charlie Sheen would say, “winning!”  The Republicans aren’t breaking the rules, they’re just bending them as much as they can to favor their side.  The filibuster is a perfect example: there’s nothing that says you can’t filibuster everything; you just aren’t supposed to. Likewise, there’s nothing that says the Supreme Court can’t make decisions purely in the interests of its preferred party–indeed, you could never prove they were doing that, as it would require telepathy–they just aren’t supposed to.  It’s hard to believe that no one noticed these massive loopholes sooner.

The Republican Party

Cut tax and spend less.

And Heed the Word of the Lord.

But mostly, cut tax.

The Democratic Party

We must tax the rich.

Unless they’re in Hollywood.

Then we’re conflicted.

Libertarianism

Cut Government Waste!

Like useless departments that

Monitor spending.

The Tea Party

We hate government

Unless it does what we want.

So… basically… yeah.

Moderate Democrats

We can disagree

On Reagan’s policies, but

His hair was perfect!*

Neo-liberalism

Globalism good.

If there’s more to it than that,

We don’t want to know.

Liberal Progressivism

We’re disappointed.

We won’t vote for Obama.

Kucinich ’16!

Moderate Republicans

We’re not Democrats.

No, really, we promise you!

Not the same at all!

The Alt-Right/”Manosphere”

We strongly believe

We’re slaves to biology.

Go build some robots.

Objectivism

We are all selfish.

It worked great in the novel.

Check your premises.

Anarchism

Why do we have to adhere to this stupid form? We will use however many freakin’ syllables we damn well please!

*Apologies to the late, great Warren Zevon for stealing this line.